Interview with Tom Stölting
the owner of the Glasgalerie Stölting

Tom Stölting was born in Prague in 1966 and came to Germany in the 1970s. His mother, Eliska Stölting, attended the Glass School in what was then Czechoslovakia, studying at the Charles University of Prague until 1968. In 1988, she opened Glasgalerie Hittfeld, the world’s first gallery to specialize in contemporary Czech glass art, just outside Hamburg. It was thanks to these fortunate circumstances that Tom Stölting developed an early interest in contemporary glass art. Tom Stölting not only had the great fortune of being able to experience countless internal and external exhibitions but was also able to watch the artists develop, thus gaining a unique insight into the Czech glass scene. He has set himself the goal of continuing in the next generation the internationally renowned glass gallery of this mother and decided to open the Glasgalerie Stölting in Hamburg’s HafenCity region in 2013.

Where does your interest in Czech glass come from as a gallerist?


It’s quite simple. I grew up with glass. My mother attended the glass school in what was then Czechoslovakia and studied at Prague University until 1968.  After we came to Germany, she opened the Hittfeld Glass Gallery in 1988. Artists were frequent visitors over many years. I not only witnessed countless exhibitions first hand but also established many personal contacts with the artists – it was like one big family for me. The artists watched me grow up and I watched their artistic development. This is an advantage for me now as it has given me a unique insight into the Czech glass scene.

At first, I did not even entertain the possibility of opening my own gallery. I studied graphic design in Hamburg, had a small agency, developed magazines for various publishers later on and then worked as an art director. From 1999, I held the position of Design Director Europe at AOL, which was a worldwide group at the time. From 2008 after almost 20 years in the media industry, I felt the urge to start something new and this gradually led to my idea of opening my own gallery in Hamburg. So it was a slow development and a long history. However, nothing had really changed at all as I now realise that I have always had a close connection with Czech glass.


What are the unique characteristics of Czech glass?


Obviously, the basis comes from centuries-old traditions and experience. Then there is the unique possibility of engaging in a 10-year training course – 4 years at the glass school and then a 6-year degree course in art. However, the most important factor is the glass plastic that was developed in the 1950s in what was then Czechoslovakia. Amongst the most prominent pioneers were Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, whose works can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as well as in many other museums around the world. In the communist era, art was observed very closely and artists were very limited in the scope they had for expressing themselves. Fortunately, this did not apply to work with glass, so artists were able to express their ideas and views with glass in a manner that would not have been possible in painting. The travel restrictions in force at the time helped to shield the glass scene from any major external influences. This resulted in the emergence of a highly autonomous art scene for glass which would otherwise not have arisen with marvellous artists whose works continue to dominate the global glass scene even after the opening of the boarders.


Who collects glass art?


There are many different kinds of collectors. There are professional collectors who view glass as an essential part of their art collections and also as long-term investments as they recognise its potential. Some collectives simply love glass and do not collect anything else. Just like art lovers who buy their first small object and gradually turn into collectors over time. One common attribute is doubtless that they are all individualists who know what they want and are not influenced by “art marketing”, preferring to go their own way instead. These collectors like to surround themselves with special objects and enrich their lives with art.


Is interest in art increasing?


Contemporary glass was popular from the 1980s. This was followed by various events, while the global economic crises have also left deep traces on the art market. Art is a market of passion but not completely separate from economic conditions. I have noted a substantial increase in this young form of art since 2015, something which pleases me greatly. This especially applies to international collectors, particularly from the United States, who are returning to Czech glass. In addition to the economic factors I mentioned before, the Internet has clearly also become an important instrument for contemporary glass. Together with the social networks, the Internet has become an extremely important channel for our segment of the art world in particular. Many new interested customers can be gained and contacts established in this way. As well as this, the entire international glass scene is networked much better today and growing steadily as a result.


Are you satisfied with your decision? 


Operating a gallery is a great challenge but I was aware of this from the outset. Success depends on many different factors, not all of which can be influenced from the first day. Independence and top quality are crucial and with glass, in particular, it is crucial to have assistance from a qualified specialist in this extraordinary genre as it is uncharted territory for many art lovers and collectors. In my particular case, my location in Hamburg’s HafenCity, an environment which I have always found fascinating, has also proved to be beneficial. When I opened my gallery, there was one other gallery in the neighbourhood. Now there are five and a new building which we expect will contain further galleries is being constructed opposite my gallery. When I look up from my desk, I see the majestic Queen Mary 2 cruise ship, which berths a few times a year not far from the gallery. So, yes, I am satisfied.